Initial Thoughts on New Haven

I fly back from New Haven, CT today. My cab comes in 6 hours. 

I’ve been doing a lot of contemplative wandering around Yale’s campus (particularly Old Campus, which I find the most charming) over the past two days.  In the past week, I’ve danced without pants, attended a fraternity party in a house that was–approximately–as hot as the surface of the sun, gone to New York City where I visited art museums and, later, the bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey where TLC films its hit show, Cake Boss. Upon returning to NYC I ate pizza that obliterated the barrier between the theoretical Platonic ideal of what sauce and cheese and basil and crust can ever hope to achieve in concert and this ideal’s actualization.

In this seven days I re-read, for the second time this summer, This Side of Paradise and a short story collection, Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace.  

I met some truly spectacular people, had great conversation, and am indebted to the eight or nine (I can’t quite remember) occupants of a house on Dwight for a really delicious vegetarian dinner.  I thank the high school and college students both from Yale and other institutions in the courtyard of Davenport College for making snide remarks about- and sharing a deep-seeded hatred for that which might be called saccharine or insipid, i.e. that which leads to severe mental flabbiness or the cerebral equivalent of cellulite-afflicted thighs.

A very special “thank you” goes out to a particularly politically ambitious high school acquaintance of mine, a Beirut-spectating encounter with whom at the aforementioned hotter-than-Hell fraternity party led to one of the more satisfying taxi rides of my life the following morning… at his expense.

I promise more ruminations on my experience visiting Yale are forthcoming.  In the meantime, keep a lookout for a post that goes live tomorrow morning at h600 CST. It is a co-blogging effort with a couple of close friends.

On Naked Parties

Last night I had the pleasure of dining with a friend of mine from high school and his eight housemates. The food was very good, the conversation witty and at times acerbic, and the people there could only be described as a group of unpretentious hipsters. To wit: they were to what hipsters aspired: artistic, dressed plainly without garishly displayed brand names or critters sewn into the chest pockets of their shirts, and capable of unaffected obscurity in their cultural references.  

Conversation drifted from the particulars of female figure-enhancement through redistributing the fat of the thigh upward, whereupon it is secured at bust-height by way of corsetry; a professor’s rebuke of Ayn Rand (whom he met on a train), when she asked if the train stopped at a certain station he retorted that it might be more appropriate if she “found out for herself;” and the subject of the Yale party scene.

“It pains me to say that at UChicago, very few people actually stick with a proscribed theme for a party. The one guy who goes all out is usually stared at. Then someone cracks a joke about the neuroses of UChicago students and everybody stands around self-consciously until some ‘bro’ does something stupid. Either that or there is dancing to subpar top 40. Lots of gatherings in dorm rooms or apartments, too. Nothing that lives up to expectations of what a good college bacchanal should be.” I was asked my opinion of the party scene where I go. “Ultimately, it depends on the demands of the theme. But in short, relative to where some of my friends go to school, the Maroon party scene is kind of a drag.”

“About accessibility of theme, one of the more popular themes for parties on this block are pants-less parties. One rule: no pants. Women tend to wear skirts or dresses, and although men can technically get away with shorts, most come in their boxers… or, if you are like the __________ twins, hot pink briefs from American Apparel.”

Someone, I forgot who, mentioned that it doesn’t stop at parties without pants. 

“Logistically, it is kind of difficult to dance around naked,” said the one who broached the topic of naked parties. Jumping around doesn’t do any favors for the naked. “So they’re mostly really civil affairs. Sitting, talking. Some drinking, but mostly just conversation is involved.”

“The best part is,” interjected my host, “that the Yale practical joke club always frequents these parties and kind of polices them. They beat the offending male with dildoes until he leaves the party if they notice he’s become aroused.” 

“One’s brain must be vigilant on so many levels at one of these things,” I suggested.

“Yeah, man. They’re pretty involved. I kind of want to go to one before I leave here.” 

“The nakedness here is both metaphor and praxis.”

“Oh, be quiet. Don’t be so U of C. It’s a party. And you used ‘praxis’ awkwardly.” 

“You know, Jason, we’re throwing a pants-less party on Friday. You should come.”

——————————–

Walking back to Davenport college with my dinner host and the friend with whom I’m staying I suggest that “I might wear the boxers from Brooks. That would be so very ivy of me.”

“Very Epicurean of you…”

“Worn earnestly or ironically for that reason?”

“Good question, man. Good question.”

Mass Art, and Some Thoughts on Romanticism

The afternoon was spent perusing the various art museums here on Yale’s campus.  In one there was the standard fare: the oil paintings of Jesus and nobles and the poor at work, the amorphous sculptures characteristic of the middle of the twentieth century, and many other categories not named here. From each, the quintessence of the genre, its cream of the crop, so to speak, was on display.  But at the museum of British art, there was an exhibition of posters from the various railed transportation systems of London (i.e. the Underground) and the various train lines that conveyed haggard city-dwellers to the country and the coast.

One of the more quintessentially British posters on display

 

On display were popularized conceptions of the idyllic life, one that, for the Brits, can be reduced efficiently to platitude: 

The British thirst for power, and an ornamentalist view of the Empire's land holdings.

 

A love of masculine, nonviolent and collegiate sport.

 

The love of cultivated nature.

 

It is, of course, more than this, more than platitude, than distilled zeitgeist, than a superficial “takeaway” from the work.  For better or worse, it is a charming way to look at things, to romanticize and to gloss over a thing’s faults.  I suppose I, to a certain degree, am guilty of this in my WASPy Ivy League romanticization of my experience visiting Yale. Romanticism implodes when it is “found out” to be a farce, a facade–that the quality celebrated in something turned out to be non-existent: the very product of the smoke and mirrors of romanticism.  

There is, however, much to love about the old buildings of New Haven, the students studying here, the strange feeling of superiority (of questionable merit, but nonetheless omnipresent), and–it must be said–the deeply evocative, fundamentally romantic, statement made by the students after they leave here for the autumn, that they, if only for a summer, were a part of the “Ivy League.” In so, the romantic notions of the Ivy League are substantiated, and are thus not the product of romanticism but the product of a certain quality conferred upon those who come here. I asked a friend about what one might call this quality. “I don’t know, man. How one would qualify it as something objective? You know, binary, something that one either possesses or lacks. Sounds like romanticism to me.”

In Philadelphia, Waiting for My Flight

Currently, I’m sitting in the Philadelphia airport in terminal F and looking skeptically at a rickety propellor plane which I am supposed to board..

Looking around, there are the average people one might expect to see in an airport, or a mall, or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.  Overwhelmingly plain, some pasty, some extraordinarily, vividly orange. Greying or dyed or bleached.

Some, however, appear intelligent. A certain unnamable smoldering energy glows in their eyes. They are plainly- but well-dressed.  Most have glasses. One young bearded man is wearing a polo shirt. On it, in lieu of an alligator or a polo player is a simple, understated, very blue “Y.”

They are, like myself, waiting to depart to New Haven.